TORONTO — Jordan Williams is feeling very fortunate.
The five-foot-11, 219-pound linebacker was able to strut his stuff Thursday at the CFL’s Ontario regional combine. Once the session began, the league cancelled all of its remaining combines because of the growing COVID-19 outbreak.
Getting the opportunity was crucial to Williams, who last played in a meaningful football in 2017 at East Carolina University. That year, he finished second on the team in tackles with 89 — including three for a loss — with a forced fumble.
“There’s a lot of teams that might’ve been wondering, ‘He’s been out. He might be fat, he might be 300 pounds. We don’t know. We haven’t seen him,”’ Williams said.
“To be here and able to showcase I’m in shape and still playing football is a blessing. Knowing in the middle of the workout that all the other combines were done was crazy but I was going to give my all regardless because I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I just went out and worked my hardest and whatever happened at the end of the day that’s what it was going to be.”
Williams put on a solid show Thursday. He recorded a 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds, 20 reps in the 225-pound bench press, 39-inch vertical jump and broad jump of 10 feet, 8.5 inches. He also ran the three-cone drill in 7.09 seconds and shuttle in 5.2 seconds.
“I wanted to show I was in shape and could ready physically to play a CFL season,” he said. “Up here the field is wider so I felt like I had to show I could play on that field with speed.
“That was the point I wanted to make.”
With the cancellation of all other combines, the time was right for Williams to drive that point home. Although Williams is a native of Fayetteville, N.C., he’s been deemed a Canadian for this year’s CFL draft, which is scheduled for April 30.
That’s hardly news to the Ottawa Redblacks, who offered Williams a spot on the practice roster last year after he attended one of the club’s free-agent camps. That is, until learning Williams’s mother was Canadian.
“The guys who were there (at free-agent camp) basically saw somebody who immediately jumped out, had good football intelligence and would be a good middle linebacker in our league as an American,” said Ottawa GM Marcel Desjardins. “He was here in Ottawa and we were going to add him to the practice roster and he happened to mention his mom was Canadian.
“So we said, ‘Look here’s your choice. You can either go down this path as an American or if you’re pretty sure you’re going to be able to obtain your passport as a Canadian, then we’d recommend you go down that path. He’s had a year to work out and obviously has been doing a good job of it.”
Had Williams accepted Ottawa’s practice-roster invitation, he would’ve been registered with the CFL as an American and his status couldn’t have been reversed afterward. Desjardins said Williams ticks off a lot of boxes for CFL general managers.
“He’s got the pedigree of an American football player with Canadian status,” said Desjardins. “Ben Cahoon (a Hall of Fame receiver with Montreal) was someone like that.
“That’s why we told him to do a bit of digging. I think he’s done the right thing. Time will tell, obviously. The thing is as an American he probably gets into a camp anyway like he did with us. As a Canadian even if for some strange reason he didn’t stick, if he needs multiple chances he’s more likely to get them.”
But as a Canadian draftee, Williams’s first CFL contract will cover three years with a maximum salary of $80,000 annually as per the league’s collective bargaining agreement. However, all Willams — who had a 2018 tryout with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers — wants is an opportunity to play pro football.
“As an athlete, you never think it (the pro football dream) is over,” he said. “You almost have to be kind of insane to always think, ‘I’m going to get a shot, somebody is going to call me. Tomorrow is going to be the day.’
“You never look at it as, ‘Oh this might be the end.’ You’re always thinking, ‘I’ve got to stay in shape because somebody will call me tomorrow.”’
Canadian football presents many challenges for Americans, given the wider, longer field and three downs. But Williams said as a middle linebacker, his transition to the new game is easier than internationals playing other positions.
“For the most part as a linebacker, the game translates very well,” he said. “Basically I’m sitting there reading the linemen, I go tackle the running back.
“(In passing situations), I get in the passing lanes and on special teams I go make a tackle. I feel like other positions are different but linebacker, specifically middle, translates pretty well.”